Discussion of the Dusty Road well and other short-term solutions to the Sunshine Coast Regional District’s (SCRD) Chapman water system supply issues re-emerged at a March 23 committee meeting.
No recommendations were made on any specific water supply enhancement projects. But a letter to board members from Sechelt area director John Henderson included on the meeting agenda sparked discussions of what can be done differently in 2023 to avoid the water emergency that system faced last year.
That prompted staff to commit to have reports on a range of water matters before the board and the public in the coming weeks. The next dates that those could come forward would be at scheduled committee of the whole or board meetings on April 6 and/or 27.
Chief Administrative Officer Dean McKinley stated the upcoming reports will include updates on the Church Road and Langdale well field projects. McKinley noted that stream flow analysis work related to the Church Road well is being undertaken. He said his view was that once those results are available, it would be the “optimal time” for the board to advocate to the province to expedite the required licence approval.
Once fully licenced, the SCRD has stated in 2023, water from the Church Road wellfield will be used to supplement the Chapman system as of the start of Stage 2 water restrictions. In 2015 and 2019, Stage 2 was introduced in early June.
Staff also noted that work on the Langdale well continues as a “top of the list” project, with details including options to expedite project completion to be covered in the promised reports.
An overview on this year’s approach to managing supplies in the SCRD’s water systems in the coming drier seasons was also committed to. That document will include updates on the requests made to the province around changes to Chapman Creek environmental flow needs and applications related to the siphon systems at Chapman and Edwards Lakes. Information related to access to supplies and options for onsite treatment of water from Gray Creek will also be included.
Those reports cannot come forward soon enough for Area E director Donna McMahon. “The community wants the big picture… they want a strategy moving forward on how and when we bring extra water sources online,” she stated. She also suggested staff report supply milestones and targets in numbers of days to make it easier for the public to understand. She noted she often “got lost” in the figures related to litres and cubic metres used to report on water supply in past years.
Stage 3 and 4 restrictions “unacceptable”: Henderson
Henderson’s letter to his board colleagues stressed the need to act now to address anticipated water shortages in 2023 and 2024. At the meeting, he stated that Stage 3 and 4 water restrictions were ”unacceptable” and that “the longer we wait (to add new sources) the more things cost."
He asked that directors reconsider positions on a Jan. 26 defeated motion to provide $50,000 for a hydrogeologist's review of capacity and water quality at an existing Dusty Road test well. A 2019 study identified potential contamination risks as the aquifer access by that well is unconfined. That led the board of the day to abandon plans for the site in favour of developing wells at Church Road and Langdale. The results of that study were also referenced by current board members as they opposed the January motion to fund the project.
Public safety and liability risks related to use of that source as a potable water supply were cited by Area A director Leonard Lee and Area F director Kate Stamford as something they would “lose sleep over”. Lee stated that as the aquifer "has no cap on it”, frequent testing could not guarantee the safety of the supply with leachate from either the mine or the nearby landfill able to impact the water at any time. He also noted that the $50,000 requested would not cover the full costs of required well infrastructure or watermain improvements needed to bring that water online, which could run into the millions of dollars.
He asked staff about the time needed to obtain a water licence and satisfy other regulatory requirements for that well. Interim director of infrastructure services Mark Brown indicated that in his opinion, such applications could not be completed and approved before the end of 2023.
shíshálh Nation Government district director Phillip Paul indicated he did not support spending funds on the well given that work is being done in different locations within the mine area which could impact the well's water quality and supply.
Environmental flow need reductions and other options
Henderson’s correspondence also called on the board to continue to press the province for a reduction in the environmental flow need levels for Chapman Creek so that more water can be drawn for community use. He suggested the SCRD offer to supplement the creek flows with non-potable water from local sources such as Sechelt’s water resource centre or wells.
Paul noted that the shíshálh Nation has concerns related to the need to maintain the creek’s environmental flows and fish stocks, which could result in it opposing any changes.
Area B director Justine Gabias commented that promoting increased water conservation may be the best option to sustaining water supplies in the system until new sources can be brought online. Paul agreed and stated that “Stage 3 and 4 restrictions are not unacceptable, we need to start rethinking our water use”.
Staff noted that enhancements to water conservation strategies will also be discussed in upcoming reports.